There is plenty of advice about making decisions. People might tell us, “go with your gut”, encouraging us to select the option that feels right to us at the time. Others might suggest that we take the first choice that comes to mind. You can find inspirational magnets telling you to “follow your dreams”. While many of these are well-intentioned, they might give the impression that our best path in life is the one that feels good at the time – like our feelings should be in charge of our choices.
I suppose that those who are letting themselves be led by the Holy Spirit may be directed to make good decisions right on the spot. It seems that this is best achieved by spending a lot of time in prayer and listening to God before we encounter challenging situations, though. And, even without God’s help, sometimes the first option presented to us happens to be the best one.
In general, though, when we only follow what our fallen, sinful natures suggest, the result is not that good. Here’s a commentary on false teachers, described in the book of Jude:
But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction.
Jude 1:10 NLT
As it turns out, our instincts aren’t necessarily that good of a leader, especially if we want to find success and joy in life. They pull us towards ourselves, leading to the relationship-destroying habits of selfishness and pride. They draw us towards unhealthy addictions, which trap us in persistent behavior that we grow to abhor. They entice us with short-term promises while hiding long-term consequences.
So, what do we do? If we can’t use feelings as our primary criteria for making good decisions, what else is there?
In another part of the Bible, the following verse appears as a Jewish man named Nehemiah (cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes) is about to answer a question from the king:
Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 2:4 NASB
Did you see what happened, there? Between the time when the opportunity was presented for Nehemiah to take action (a golden opportunity, and one that he might not see again), and when Nehemiah responded, he prayed to God.
We could debate whether Nehemiah was asking God to bless his impending actions, or asking God for the right thing to say. Regardless, Nehemiah was getting God involved in his choices.
I can imagine Nehemiah having thought about getting this opportunity, and maybe even being nervous. Rather than focusing on his own reputation, though, or rushing to a request, he takes a moment (maybe just a second) to talk with God. What a great example for us to follow! When we want to rush into saying something because we think that it will make us feel better, we can check with God to ensure that it is consistent with His commands. When our bodies or minds crave a good feeling, we can pause to confirm that our decisions are wise. When an opportunity presents itself (especially one that we have waited and prayed for), we can ask God not only for direction, but for courage to say the right thing.
While I believe that God gave us feelings, and that He gives us many things that we enjoy, our feelings aren’t meant to determine right and wrong. The next time that you or I feel our feelings taking over, let’s stop and make sure that we’re still aligned with God’s will.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.